Not one but two Santa Monica Little League baseball squads had a chance to make history Saturday in Ladera Heights, having advanced to the final round in their divisions of the District 25 Tournament of Champions. This is the first time the local Minors and Majors teams both made the finals since 1997, when both captured the title.
This time, the two Santa Monica teams fell short—each by only one run—despite getting outstanding pitching performances and stellar defensive play. In the Minors Division (ages 9-11), Mike Vigman allowed just three hits and struck out eight batters in six innings for the Santa Monica East Yankees, who were held hitless in a 2-1 loss to the University Pirates.
The game was scoreless through four innings, but in the top of the fifth the Pirates capitalized on a pair of Yankees miscues to score twice and had two more runners in scoring position when Santa Monica second baseman Cameron McDonald caught a hard line drive to end the frame.
McDonald led off the home half of the fifth with a walk, took second on a wild pitch, advanced to third on a passed ball and scored on an error to pull Santa Monica within one run. However, the Yankees got only three runners on base all day and were retired in order in their last at-bat, ending an impressive 19-5 season.
"We played Yankees baseball but we just couldn't hit the ball," team manager Danny Swartz said. "This is great motivation to come back next year and beat them."
Vigman, who was presented the game ball and will be representing his team in the upcoming All-Stars tournament, threw 79 pitches and finished his outing by snaring a hard grounder near the mound and tossing to Miles Kirshner at first for the final out of the sixth.
After going 16-2 in the regular season, the Yankees beat City of Angels 13-1, Culver Marina 11-8 and Beverly Hills 6-0 to reach the championship game.
In the Majors Division (ages 10-12), Chase Rowe pitched into the sixth inning and held a powerful Ladera Yankees lineup in check as the Santa Monica East Giants were edged 2-1 in another game that was everything a final should be.
Rowe allowed a solo homer to the second batter he faced, but nothing more. The Giants tied it in the fourth when Ryan Bunting drew a lead-off walk, took second on a passed ball, got sacrificed to third by Jared Levin and scored on Rowe's ground out to shortstop.
"I didn't let it affect me, I kept my composure," Rowe said of the homer. "I had to be careful with this lineup. They thought I was getting tired at the end but I really wasn't. It was a still a great season."
Rowe, who had eight strikeouts and allowed four hits against a Ladera squad that scored 37 runs against its first two playoff opponents. Rowe also hit 11 of the Giants' 19 home runs this season. He will be joined in next week's All-Star tournament by teammates Levin, Bunting, Max Dorf, Anthony Adams, Conner Bass and Steven Heppting.
After dropping their first game of the season, the Giants won 17 straight and finished the regular season 18-2. They won three games in the Santa Monica playoffs and beat the Santa Monica West winning Cardinals 8-5 to capture the City championship. Then they downed Malibu 10-1 and West LA 8-5 to reach Saturday's final. They posted a 25-3 overall record.
"We held them down and they were stressing because we played a solid team game," said Giants manager Des Bunting, who started coaching in the T-Ball Division in 2004. "Chase was in the zone today and we performed as well or better than we have all year so you can't ask for anything more."